It’s YOUR safari
A safari in Africa is the ultimate holiday. And it is your safari – your itinerary should reflect your budget, interests, expectations and desired accommodation comfort levels.
Here’s a guideline to accommodation types that you will encounter:
- City Hotel/Guesthouse/B&B, situated in or near main cities or airports, often used for overnight stays or as a base for day excursions.
- Country Hotel/Lodge, situated in rural areas, often located on large properties or farms.
- Game Lodge – situated in or near game reserves or remote wild areas.
- Bush Camp/Fly Camp. These small camps are often situated in very remote areas and often set up in areas that are inaccessible during the rainy season, resulting in the camp being totally broken down and rebuilt each year.
- Mobile Tented Camps are erected for a limited period, after which they are broken down. They are generally erected in game reserves for specific wildlife encounters (such as the migrations on the Mara in Kenya) or as part of an overland or walking expedition.
Expect the following broad comfort levels:
- Rustic – This is no-frills accommodation and usually in very remote areas. Large tents or reed/pole huts are the norm, as are pit toilets and bucket showers. Water is often heated over a fire. Furnishing is basic but caters for all your needs.
- Comfortable – Comfortable furnishings, running hot and cold water, flush toilets.
- Luxury – Comparable to 4- and 5-star hotel standards.
- Deluxe – A clear rung above Luxury. Furnishings and attention to detail tend to be noticeably superior. Staff members often outnumber the guests.
Certain factors influence the risk of contracting malaria. For example low-lying equatorial swamp will be high-risk all year round, a dry montane plateau set at a subtropical latitude will probably carry no risk at all, and places falling between these extremes often show a marked seasonal pattern – medium to high risk in the wet summer months, low to no risk in the dry winter.
Remote areas tend to be lower risk as there are fewer people to act as vectors for malaria. That said, probabilities and science aside, it only takes one properly infected mosquito to wreak havoc in your life – so rather be safe than sorry. Our rule of thumb is to take malaria prophylaxis when in doubt. Ask your doctor for advice.
You can also lessen the risk by avoiding being bitten. Wear long sleeves, trousers and socks and douse any exposed skin with a good mosquito repellent shortly before it gets dark (the anopheles mosquito is active at dawn and dusk), and always sleep under a net.
Should you experience any combination of headache, fever, nausea, flu-like aches or disorientation within 7 days after entering a malaria area, get yourself tested immediately – malaria responds best to treatment when detected early.
Speak to your doctor about inoculations for yellow fever, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, cholera and rabies.
That tan may look good for a few days after you get back from safari, but skin cancer is a high risk for everybody – especially fair-skinned people.
Note that tea, coffee and alcoholic beverages act as diuretics and can actually contribute to dehydration. Ask your lodge manager if tap water is safe to drink. Most lodges and mobile safari operators provide bottled water.
Check your body for ticks after every bush walk and at least once a day even if you are not walking. If these bites cause discomfort or concern approach your lodge manager for advice.
The dry months are generally more popular with safari goers, although this is partly because it coincides with the long northern hemisphere summer break.
Prime game-viewing months tend to be May to October. On the other hand, most animals have their babies during the wet seasons, when there is more to eat and drink. Babies are cute and great to watch and predators hunt very successfully at this time because the young animals are easy to catch.
Bird watching is generally better during the wet summer months, when many birds are breeding and very vocal and visible and when the migratory birds are present.
Certain wildlife areas are very seasonal – in other words certain animals move in and out depending on the availability of water and food – while others have more sedentary animal populations (sometimes because they are fenced in).
Photography is arguably better during the wet months because the air is clear (no dust) and the colours are more vibrant. Resign yourself to the fact that your camera equipment will get wet in the wet season and in the dry season it will become covered in dust.
Geographical features such as mountains and lakes can affect weather patterns by bringing more rain and wind.
- East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, Ethiopia and far northern Zambia)
This area is close to the equator and so seasonal fluctuations in temperature are largely insignificant. Expect generally warm weather, although temperatures can drop significantly during and after rainy weather, and at night. Temperatures will vary between 20 to 40 degrees Celsius.
The main rainy season is from April to May, with a lighter second rainy season from mid October to December. Neither rainy season should influence your travel plans although you should pack rain gear during those times.
Coastal areas are hot and humid throughout the year with December to March being uncomfortably so.
- Southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa excluding the Western Cape)
Expect hot and wet summers (November to March) and cool and dry winters (April to October). Rainfall tends to be in short thunder storms in the late afternoon. Temperatures will vary between 20 to 40 degrees Celsius in summer and 10 to 25 degrees in winter (with close to freezing at times, especially in higher lying areas). November can be especially hot and humid, with relief when the rains arrive.
- South Africa’s Western Cape
Mediterranean climate. Expect hot and dry summers (November to March) and cold & wet winters (April to October). Temperatures will vary between 15 to 32 degrees Celsius in summer (with up to 40 degrees every now and then) and 0 to 20 degrees in winter (snow in high-lying areas). This is the southern tip of Africa and so expect the odd freak weather system in summer, bringing rain and lower temperatures.
- Early morning wake up with tea/coffee and biscuits, or a light continental breakfast.
- Morning game drive – usually for about 3 to 4 hours.
- Late morning breakfast (brunch) or early lunch
- Siesta (some people choose this time for bush walks or excursions to nearby villages)
- Mid-afternoon tea and cake
- Late afternoon game drive with sundowners and snacks, often ending up as a night drive (with spot lights) – usually about 3 to 4 hours
- Dinner and fireside drinks
This routine can of course change if you bump into something really interesting during your game drive and stay out for the day or if that elusive leopard walks through camp during lunch and you decide to follow him by vehicle.
For some, skipping a game drive or two and doing some reading, writing, sketching or bird-watching around camp makes the safari truly relaxing.
Firstly, remember that bad news sells and that is why you see so much of it. Secondly, remember that Africa is huge.
There are trouble spots in Africa, but the areas in which you will spend time are probably as far away from those trouble spots as the Middle East is from London!
Africa is no different to the rest of the world. If you plan to spend time in a city, take precautions as you would in your home country.
Petty theft is common in cities, but physical attacks on tourists are very rare.
Safety tips for cities:
- Don’t wander around the streets after dark.
- Ask your hotel about unsafe areas and avoid them.
- Leave expensive jewellery at home and wear a cheap plastic watch.
- Don’t carry cameras and video cameras in full view.
- Keep your money and passport in a money belt and out of site or in a safe at your hotel.
- Dress like a local or at least dress casually.
- Use your cell phone discreetly, and not while driving.
Our final comment regarding crime and safety: You will spend most of your African holiday in a relatively remote and wild area where crime of any sort is extremely rare, if not non-existent.
- They are wild! These are not tame theme park animals, or Disney channel characters. Even a small doe-eyed antelope can and will attack you if it feels threatened;
- Most safari camps are unfenced and dangerous animals can (and do!) wander through the camps, particularly at night.
- Please listen to the camp staff and guides. The safety precautions need to be taken seriously, and strictly adhered to.
- Don’t go wandering off on your own without a guide. Even walking to your room at night can be dangerous. Elephants and buffaloes are impossible to see after dark, even a few maters away. Don’t leave your rooms at night and don’t walk along river banks (crocodiles and hippos kill many people every year);
- Observe animals silently and with a minimum of disturbance to their natural activities. Loud talking and standing up on game drive vehicles can frighten the animals away, or trigger an attack;
- Never attempt to attract an animal’s attention. Don’t imitate animal sounds, clap your hands, pound the vehicle or throw objects. Please respect your driver-guide’s judgment about proximity to predators and large animals like elephants. A vehicle driven too close can hinder a hunt or cause animals to abandon a hard-earned meal. It can also trigger a charge;
- Litter tossed on the ground, in addition to being unsightly, can choke or poison animals and birds.
- Never attempt to feed or approach any wild animal on foot. Lodges and campsites suffer the consequences as these animals may become accustomed to humans – leading to danger for all involved;
- Refrain from smoking on game drives. The dry African bush ignites very easily, and a flash fire can kill animals and destroy vast areas of grazing.
- Be especially wary of leaving young children unattended while on safari. Noisy children not only irritate other guests, they also attract predators like leopards because their vocalisations sound like distress calls from prey animals. And young children that are unsteady on their feet or erratic in their movements can trigger an attack from even small animals that would normally avoid humans. For these reasons, many lodges do not take children on game drives or even allow them at the lodge.
As far as cash is concerned, US$ and Euro are accepted in most places, and most vendors either charge in those currencies or can work out exchange rates (even the curio stalls and street sellers!). Note that vendors can be quite sleight of hand and mind, so check everything. Note that in South Africa most transactions are in ZAR (Rand).
Exchange currency at hotels, lodges and recognised foreign exchange bureaus. Do not buy local currency from street dealers as this is illegal and there is a risk of receiving counterfeit currency.
For casual expenses we find that US$300 per person for these odds and ends is ample on a 10-day safari. Exchange about half of this for the local currency when you arrive at the airport or soon thereafter and ask your guide/driver for the best place to do so.
Credit cards: VISA and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit cards, with American Express and Diners only accepted at some lodges.
ATMs: Most cities and larger towns have ATMs for the withdrawal of local currency in cash.
If you need to carry large amounts of money then bring a money belt, which should not be visible.
Travellers’ cheques: We advise against using travellers cheques as they are not accepted by street vendors and only by a small minority of restaurants and lodges.
Usually we end up tipping about US$5 per day to our guide/tracker and about the same for general staff (porters, cooks, cleaners, fire makers, waiters, watchmen etc). So US$10 per day usually covers one tourist for tips. Some lodges have an anonymous tipping box for all staff.
People travelling in a group often end up pooling tips and making a presentation at the end of the safari – great fun for all.
Some people prefer to tip directly and that’s also fine. An important point is that this is entirely at your discretion.
One golden rule: Never tell your guide/tracker that his tip is dependant on his finding certain animals – this is unfair on him and may force him to bend the rules in his efforts to please you. This could cause damage to the environment and wildlife.
Make sure your insurance package includes cancellation or curtailment of the safari, emergency evacuation expenses, medical expenses, repatriation expenses, damage/theft/loss of personal baggage, money and goods.
Passports should have a minimum of 2-4 clean pages per country visited, for visas and entry/exit stamps (some visas take up a full page).
All passport holders should verify with their relevant consulate concerning visa entry requirements. Visas are the responsibility of the traveller.
If you are extending your journey to other countries, please establish entry requirements for those countries as well.
Please ensure that you have all the necessary visas prior to departure (unless available on entry).
If you intend to drive a vehicle in Africa please make sure you have a valid international driving license and vehicle ownership papers. Make sure you have a vaccination certificate for yellow fever.
Keep copies of your documents and vital information as well as a few passport photos in your luggage, and leave a few with friends at home (passport, insurance docs, bank and credit card details, travellers cheque numbers, 24 hour emergency contact number, contact details of relatives or friends).
A good SLR camera with telephoto lens is necessary for good photography of birds and animals. A zoom lens can be extremely useful on safari and the minimum recommended size is 200mm.
Most of your photos will probably be taken on an 80-200mm lens. Consideration should be given before travelling with any lens bigger than 400 mm as most interesting shots are taken using hand-held equipment.
A tripod and beanbag are essential. Bring spare memory cards and batteries. Some lodges do stock these items but don’t rely on it.
Always ask about camera-charging facilities at lodges.
Some airlines and routes into Africa via the Middle East may require photographic equipment to be checked-in and not carried as hand luggage.
Baggage restrictions on small aircraft are often 15-20 kg, inclusive of carry on luggage. As such, excess weight charges easily apply. It is recommended that on booking you bear this in mind and request a freight seat booking to extend such luggage restrictions.
There is nothing worse than being lumped with folk who don’t share your passion for bird watching or photography or trees, insects, local cultures etc.
Most lodges stock guide books in their libraries but they are for general guest use. Take the time beforehand to peruse the guide book and to get to know the birds in the area. Take a good pair of binoculars and a note book.
Some lodges supply a bird list with space for you to tick your sightings. Most importantly, if you are a birder remember that your fellow travellers may not share your enthusiasm.
If you are not on an organised birding expedition please be considerate when on game drives and ask your lodge manager to group you with other birders.
Quality (and quantity!) of food will impress you. Every establishment will have its own style, ranging from sophisticated Euro-cuisine to indigenous African fare.
Expect attention to detail, even with fireside snacks and hors d’oeuvres. Even the most rustic bush camps and mobile camps will put extra effort into making those tin ovens produce the most appetising meals.
Please let us know your dietary requirements so that we can inform the catering services on your trip abut your needs, be they for health or religious reasons.
Expect to put on a bit of weight during your safari.
There is no upper age limit on safaris. For safaris that involve any form of physical exercise (such as bush walking or gorilla trekking), please lets us know your age and fitness level. We will then suggest options and alternatives that suit you.
Generators are run during the day when guests are on game drives. Some of the remote bush camps have no power at all – battery charging is via the game drive vehicle, if at all, and lighting is via paraffin lamps.
Many lodges will have plug adaptors for most countries, but be sure to check which plugs are used and bring your own adaptors. Three prong square or round plugs are most commonly used in Africa.
Let us know your battery charging requirements so that we can find out the finer detail for you.
Bring spare batteries.
A few rules:
- Underwear – please wash your own underwear with soap provided by your lodge, or request soap from the lodge manager. Most washing is done by hand, and cultural restrictions mean that many lodge staff members will not wash other people’s underwear.
- Don’t hand in delicate or expensive clothing – the laundry process is often rather rudimentary and could cause damage to your clothes.
- Plan on a 24 hour turn-around for your washing (though rain delays can occur).
Let us know if you have excess luggage weight or if you personally weigh above 100kg – you may need to pay a premium.
Keep clothing to a minimum as the style is casual and there is most often a daily laundry service.
Use soft luggage so that it can be stowed easily in the luggage hold of small aeroplanes.
Almost any dress code goes in hotels and lodges but on certain city streets, beaches and rural communities you should dress and behave more conservatively. This is especially so in Islamic parts of East Africa, when visiting remote tribes, attending cultural ceremonies, near shrines, places of worship, burial and sacred sites, etc.
Always treat people in other parts of the world with respect. Their cultures and reactions to things may be different to yours.
Most people go on holiday to escape from things, but if you anticipate having to be in constant contact with the outside world, ask us if your lodge has facilities such as wireless Internet or satellite phone. Many remote lodges do have Internet facilities, but many have a policy of no Internet for guests. If this is a problem let us know.
Cell phone coverage can be found in most parts of Africa, but be prepared for areas of no coverage or lengthy trips to find sufficient signal strength.
For those guests that bring satellite phones on safari, and in areas where mobile phone reception is available, keep in mind the following:
- Please ensure the ring tone is kept at a low volume to avoid disturbing other guests.
- Please use your phone in the privacy of your room and not in any of the common areas or on any of the vehicles or on game drives. Remember that most people come on safari to “get away from it all”.
- Good quality sunglasses – preferably polarised
- Light scarf – for hot and cold weather
- Sun hat
- Golf-shirts, T-shirts and long-sleeved cotton shirts
- Long trousers/slacks
- More formal attire for your stay at prestigious city hotels or on one of the luxury trains
- Underwear (sports bra recommended on game drives as the roads can be bumpy and uneven) and socks
- Good walking shoes (running/tennis shoes are fine)
- Swimming costume
- Warm anorak or parka, scarf & gloves (it can get cold at night and early morning)
- Light rain gear for the rainy months
- Camera and video equipment with plenty of memory cards and spare batteries
- If you wear contact lenses, we recommend that you bring along a pair of glasses in case your eyes get irritated by the dust
- Binoculars (night vision binoculars are not essential but highly recommended if your safari includes night activities)
- Relevant bird book or app if you are a keen birder
- Personal toiletries
- Malaria tablets (if applicable)
- Moisturising cream & suntan lotion
- Insect repellent e.g. Tabard, Peaceful Sleep, Rid, Jungle Juice, etc
- Basic medical kit (aspirins, plasters, Imodium, antiseptic cream and anti-histamine cream, etc)
- Tissues/”Wet Wipes”
- Visas, tickets, passports, money and important documents
- Waterproof/dustproof bags/cover for your cameras
- A good torch and spare batteries
- Padlocks for your luggage during international and regional flights
- Mobile phone
- Torch and reading head-lamp
Please note that bright colours and white are NOT advised whilst on safari. We advise that you wear neutral coloured clothes – brown, tan, khaki, green etc.